from Louis in Johannesburg, South Africa: Small holder organic farming, bartering and trading within suburbia. Thanks Covid19!

August 30. I have been awestruck by the rapid digitally enabled transformation of learning. Rachel is not looking forward to returning to class based schooling which is scheduled to resume soon. She is dreading the exam season which does not suite her learning style and persona. 

Thanks, David for your helpful observations about the shortcomings of exams as they are now structured. The links you provided have also proved insightful and rich, thank you. The beneficial application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be welcomed by Rachel. Hopefully it arrives within the next four years. Klaus Shwab, founder of the WEF, reminds us that 4IR is not value free. There are constructive as well as destructive applications of the disruptive technologies contained in the so-called Fourth Industrial revolution (4IR). The application of AI in examination of knowledge would be constructive application. Smart cities which are rapidly evolving in The People’s Republic of China (PRC) seem to be reinforcing coercion and control by intruding into the private space of its citizens. In due course I expect 4IR technologies will also be used to enhance informed economic choices thus catalysing wealth-creation and democratic processes.

COVID19 has compelled me to stay out of its path – by all accounts I am in its kill zone. That has been a mixed blessing as it has enabled me to not only self-isolate but also turn inward to writing and gardening/farming. A recent visitor commented, once he had seen the various facets of self-isolation on our small holding, that we had prepared for the apocalyptic moment where SA as we know it has collapsed.

In the meantime, back on the ranch (on our self-isolated small holding) in our agriculturally oriented suburb life is changing for the better COVID19 notwithstanding. It is returning to life as I imagine it once existed. This lifestyle is becoming the new normal on our suburb of more than 400 families. Yes, it’s a gated suburb. Ow else could it be crime-free in the current version of SA?

Small businesses developed out of necessity are truly the mother of invention. COVID19 has all but wiped out small businesses. Most restaurant chains have closed many outlets and some franchises have been declared bankrupt. Giant synfuel corporations SASOL reported a R90bn loss last week.  In the meantime Sean, just up the road we live in, has become a supplier of packaged meat products and supplies our needs. He delivers to our front gate, complete with face masks and sanitised bags, thinly sliced smoked bacon, smoked pork-neck, rump and T-bone steaks and topside mince and more.

Other suppliers add Salmon and other fish delicacies to their offerings. All of it at prices well below what the retail chains ask. We have redirected all our purchases to support these businesses. Sarah, also close by, supplies us with fresh farm eggs by the dozen, untouched and virus-free delivered weekly from a farm more than 400 kilometres away. The farmer now has sufficient business from the surrounding suburbs obviating the need to subject herself to the vagaries of the large chains and their unethical manipulation of quality and price of the little supplier. I expect if these initiatives survive beyond COVID19 they will become the new normal.

A WhatsApp group has sprung up amongst the 400 families to put buyers in touch with local suppliers. Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ at work! Sarah our egg supplier also supplied us with Spekboom cuttings. The Spekboom, an indigenous succulent from the Eastern Cape, is interesting as it grows easily from slips. It is a very good carbon dioxide sink. It is edible to both browsers as staple feed and humans as a delicious salad ingredient. I have planted a row of these useful plants and intend supplying our kitchen from the growing hedge it will form in our dry garden. More about the broader Midrand context and churches in a future entry.

This morning at dawn, I received a tour of the crops that are growing in the cultivated area of our property by Malawian gardener, Victor Magonja. Onions, Radishes, Spinach, Cabbages, Hubbard Squash thriving as the season turns to spring and summer. Gem Squash planting from seeds harvested selectively from last season’s crop to follow as staggered planting limits the feast and famine cycle of glut and shortage. We tithe our crops with anyone who participates in their cultivation. Spinach is a great favourite, for making traditional African Morogo, amongst our friends and colleagues.

We also make Morogo as a dinner staple in season and freeze surplus for out of season consumption. I can see in my mind’s eye the welcoming, broad smiles from friends and colleagues which greet an armful gift of freshly picked Spinach.

http://globaltableadventure.com/recipe/stewed-spinach-greens/

Delani Mthembu, Myelani Holeni and Alex Mabunda and neighbours are the primary beneficiaries. Our pecan nut trees are also harvested delivering 30-40 kgs of nuts per fully grown tree. All crops are organically cultivated, with nutritional compost also from our garden.  

Thanks to Monsanto and others which practice shareholder capitalism (which is in decline and probably failing) seed harvesting is not possible as the GM crops have been modified so that seeds are sterile and cannot be replanted. We found this out with the corn we planted. Unethical capitalists compelled us to buy new seeds instead of harvesting and replanting. We are finding out by trail and error which seeds can be replanted and which can not. We avoid buying GM seeds where we can. Historically, Monsanto registered seed banks in the USA as their intellectual property. One of these seed banks contained 11,000 seeds! Access to these seeds now carry a royalty to Monsanto.(‘Future of Food’ documentary available on DVD made by Garcia’s widow). In Holland we were able to attend public activist citizen gatherings including the Dutch Minister of Agriculture to talk about these matters.

Winter evenings are spent in front of a roaring fire fuelled by recycled invasive Eucalyptus hardwood. Namibian charcoal, made from invasive species, fuels our outdoor cooking when Eskom fails to meet demand and we experience blackouts. Rolling blackouts are now quite common.

From Anne in Adelaide, Australia: towards the Centre.

Wheels from a bygone era

Travelling north from Adelaide you are heading towards the Outback … often called the Red Centre of Australia. It gets dryer and dryer the further you go. Yesterday, we travelled 300 km north to the region of Mount Remarkable. Our group of 20 belong to a field geology club. The main interest is geology but they also look at the flora and fauna.

It’s the first time this year that we have been able to travel. so, there is an added excitement to this nine day journey of ours. Because of COVID-19 there were extra steps in organising this trip. We all submitted statements about our recent movements and possible exposure to infected people. If we had cold or cough symptoms during the last week before departure, we were asked to have a COVID-19 test.

For those who are interested in geology, we are travelling along the Adelaide Geosyncline. This is a geologist paradise: a unique area with some of the oldest animal fossils ever found – the Ediacara fauna – as well as many other interesting exposures.

A thinning and stretching of the earth’s crust 800 million years ago caused troughs to form. Since then complex geological activity deposited material into the trough. Ice ages, rising and falling of seas, buckling of the land masses, life flowering and dying, all have all left their mark on this landscape.

Bungaree Shearing Shed

We drove through fields of half-height wheat, yellow fields of canola and pastures filled with sheep and their tiny lambs to arrive at Bungaree station for morning tea. Bungaree has been in the family for six generations. It was established in 1841 by the two Hawker brothers, shortly after the first colonists arrived in South Australia. The station was originally 267 mi.² in size. Since then it has been divided and subdivided. The original Homestead and 22 stone buildings remain. The station became famous for the breeding of Merinos. Once upon a time, they farmed 100,000 sheep and had 50 full-time shearers. It was a veritable village on the edge of the settlement of South Australia.

The Bungaree Homestead

One of the family showed us around their historic shearing shed which is still used for their current flock of 7000 sheep. Tourists are returning to Bungaree to stay in their historic accommodation and their refurbished shearers’ quarters. The station is also a popular venue for weddings. At the top of the hill is a quaint stone family church and within it it is a family memorial to a recipient of the VC- Major Lanoe George Hawker who was awarded the VC in the Great War before dying in action in 1916.

https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/major-lanoe-hawker-vc

Amongst the olive trees

(In the centre of every little town we have passed there is a memorial for those who fell in the First World War.)

For a long time it has been said that Australia “rode on a sheep’s back“. Farming in South Australia seems to me to be a balancing act. The choice of land and the choice of what you farmed made you a fortune or broke you. This is a harsh country and the struggles of the first colonists is written on the land. Driving north, you see abandoned, crumbling stone cottages along the road.

Wirrabara’s silo art

We carried on north to the tiny town of Wirrabara to see the newly painted wheat silos. Across Australian disused silos are being creatively decorated.

We are now staying in cabins in the Beautiful Valley Caravan Park in the shadow of Mt Remarkable.

Throughout the park there are old eucalypts with deep holes. For ten years, the owners have encouraged brush-tailed possums to inhabit these gum trees. Every evening at dusk, the possums are fed slices of carrot. A tap on the tree trunk and the possums wake up to carrot time. Many have joeys. As I walked back to our cabin after dinner at the local pub, every tree had a little large-eyed grey possum lump, waiting for treats.

Happy possums!

from John F. in Tadcaster, UK. August in North Yorkshire.

Post no 14.  August 17. We are well behaved in this rural part of the country; masks are universal and even in the little village shop when the postmaster hands me my morning paper, I don a face shield. So far there is no sign of the virus erupting again, as it has in West Yorkshire, not so far away. The local hospital has not had a death since June 18th.

Some of the restrictions are proving frustrating. I saved Rishi Sunak £100 by taking all my grandchildren and parents to a wonderful tapas restaurant last week on a Thursday, just missing the £10 a head gift. The food was excellent as always (far better say the Spaniards whom I have taken there, compared to what they get at home) but the complex ordering system made me cross.

The menu was on the internet, so I printed off copies for everyone to save time. However we could not simply tell the shielded waitress what we wanted, but had to download the menu and an ordering system from a mobile app. As we were spread over two tables there had to be two orders and drinks were also online. The whole ordering process took 45 minutes but the waitress finally relented and accepted a drinks order before we had entered it on the mobile. Payment had to be made before the order could be sent to the kitchen; later the whole process was restarted for the ice creams etc that the children wanted.

Sandsend Beach, north of Whitby, UK

Like many people I am still a little uncertain about the regulations; I may well have been breaking them when my wife and I went to the beach at Sandsend, a little village north of Whitby. On a lovely sunny day we joined our grandchildren for a light lunch on the terrace of their holiday house and then in deckchairs on the beach. But what a wonderful orgy of nostalgia it was, as I used to go to that same beach 75 years ago just after the war.  However the young now have 21st century equipment such as wet suits and surf boards and are far more active than I ever was.

The weather has been far cooler than in the south of England and as a result our harvest has barely started. However those farmers that have combined, report low yields of poor quality barley – fit only for cattle feed rather than milling for food (or beer). Straw is very short and stubby so the income from this will be negligible. Wheat has still to be harvested and the potatoes are being drenched by huge irrigation pipes.

As ever, our local church has been slow to restore normal operations. It provides one Zoom service on Sundays for all four parishes in its benefice and a live one in the biggest church; it then lets the local churchwardens open up their churches for private prayer an hour once a week. No plans are given for full live services in the three smaller churches.